Salmon Creek Trail is a popular track with backpackers venturing deep into the Silver Peak Wilderness in the Monterey District of Los Padres National Forest, but you only need to hike a quarter mile round trip from Highway One to see a beautiful 120-foot waterfall. Unlike the trail overlooking beautiful McWay Falls farther up the Big Sur Coast, this hike brings you up close and person with a powerful cascade pouring down the Santa Lucia Mountains.
Park at the trailhead on a big horseshoe bend in Highway One, just south of the non-operational Salmon Creek Ranger Station and Buckeye Trail. Look for the mileage sign on the east side of the highway, and start hiking up the trail south of the creek.
You can basically follow you ears the entire way to the falls. After 300 feet, break from the trail through a garden of boulders toward the creek. The surrounding Bays add a soothing fragrance to this shaded glen.
Cross a couple of small grottos and approach the waterfall. Two branches of water unite as they drop 120 feet and crash into the pool below, giving rise to a spray of mist. There is a boulder blocking easy access to the base of the falls. To obtain the unobstructed view on the other side, employ the assistance of a rope that hangs down the rock. Hoist yourself a couple feet and cross the rock.
Even if you aren’t up for this quick bit of climbing, the waterfall is quite impressive from the rocks just downstream. When you have taken it all in, make your way back through the boulders and down the trail to Highway One (assuming you aren’t hiking farther up Salmon Creek Trail). No fee or permit is required, so get out and enjoy.
Trail status: As of July 2018, Highway 1 has reopened to provide access to Salmon Falls from the north and south. For more information, you may call the US Forest Service Monterey District Office in King City at (831)385-5434.
To get to the trailhead: Salmon Creek Trail is located on a large horseshoe bend in Highway One, 3.7 miles north of Ragged Point Inn (or 26 miles north of Cambria). From the other direction, drive 33.6 miles south from Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (home of McWay Falls) or 41.6 miles from the Nepenthe Restaurant turnoff in Big Sur. The trail to Salmon Creek Falls is located right on the bend in the road, south of the out-of-service Salmon Creek Ranger Station and Buckeye Trail.
Trailhead address: Cabrillo Highway (Highway One), Los Padres National Forest, Big Sur, CA 93920
Trailhead coordinates: 35.81573, -121.35879 (35° 48′ 56.62″N 121° 21′ 31.64″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Central Coast trails and campgrounds.
This hike of 6.5 miles or more reaches incredibly ocean vistas and trail camps in the Silver Peak Wilderness. Connect Cruickshank Trail and Buckeye Trail for an excellent shuttle hike of 8.25 miles or more.
This hike into Silver Peak Wilderness starts with bold ocean views and crosses redwood groves to reach Upper Cruickshank Camp at a junction with Buckeye Trail, 5 miles round trip from Highway One.
|Jade Cove and Plaskett Rock Point
This 1.5-mile hike along an ocean bluff visits a prominent peninsula and a small cove.
|Sand Dollar Beach
This stunning hike of half a mile or more reaches two scenic overlooks as it descends to a long beach on the Big Sur coast.
|Pacific Valley Bluff Trail
This short out and back hike extends from Highway One to an ocean bluff with fantastic views of the Big Sur Coast.
|Hare Creek Trail, Limekiln Trail, and Falls Trail
This 2.65-mile hike in Limekiln State Park explores a trio of trails along lovely streams in redwood-lined canyons, reaching Limekiln Falls and historic lime kilns.
This 0.6-mile hike looks out on a stunning Big Sur waterfall that pours 80 feet right on to the beach.
This 0.9-mile hike heads inland up McWay Creek past a picnic area in a redwood grove to a lovely little waterfall.
This 1.5-mile hike visits a cove and a secluded beach along the scenic Big Sur coast. The cove is accessed through a tunnel.
This short walk reaches an absolutely stunning beach that's a classic feature of the Big Sur landscape.
|Big Sur River Gorge
This half-mile off-trail hike ventures up the Big Sur River on a water-wading boulder-hopping adventure to a crystal clear pool that's a gorgeous Big Sur swimming hole.
|Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View
This 2.4-mile hike is like two hikes in one, reaching a waterfall in a canyon of redwoods and a vista point overlooking the Big Sur River Valley.
|Nature Trail - River Path Loop
This easy 0.55-mile loop explores woodlands along the Big Sur River and a redwood grove that includes the unique and impressive Proboscis Tree. The loop can be combined with the trail to Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View for a 3-mile trek.
|Ridge Trail - Panorama Trail - Bluff Trail Loop
This 8.7-mile loop in Andrew Molera State Park crosses a coastal ridge, bluff, and beach that are packed with amazing Big Sur views.
This 3.2-mile out-and-back hike ventures up the coast from the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery to Piedras Blancas Light Station. Additional boardwalks at the rookery can be used to add another mile of hiking.
|More Central Coast Hikes
Explore other destinations along the California coast between Ventura and Monterey, including trails in Los Padres National Forest.
|Tangerine Falls in Los Padres National Forest
This 2.5-mile hike visits a beautiful waterfall on the edge of Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara.
This short 0.65-mile hike visits an 80-foot tall fern-lined waterfall.
|Rose Valley Falls in Los Padres National Forest
This 1-mile round trip trail leads to the lower tier of a lovely two-tier 300-foot waterfall.
|Sturtevant Falls in the San Gabriel Mountains
This 3.3-mile hike visits a 60-foot waterfall and a lush cottage-lined canyon.
|Fish Canyon Falls in the San Gabriel Mountains
This 4.8-mile round trip hike leaves from an active rock quarry and progresses up a beautiful canyon to a mesmerizing multi-tiered waterfall.
|Escondido Falls in the Santa Monica Mountains
This 3.8-mile out and back hike visits a 200-foot waterfall that is split into two tiers. The upper tier is 150 feet tall and stunning after a rainstorm.
|Tokopah Falls in Sequoia National Park
This 4.2-mile hike reaches the base of the tallest waterfall in Sequoia National Park.
|Lower Yosemite Fall in Yosemite National Park
This 1.2-mile hike delivers visitors to the base of the tallest waterfall in North America. The experience is not to be missed.
|Kirk Creek Campground
This outstanding 33-site campground in Los Padres National Forest has enormous ocean views from a bluff along the Big Sur coast.
|Plaskett Creek Campground
This 45-site campground in Los Padres National Forest is positioned across Highway One from Sand Dollar Beach and Plaskett Rock Point on the coast of Big Sur.
|Limekiln State Park Campground
This small Big Sur campground at the bottom of Limekiln Canyon has sites along a creek through a redwood grove and near the ocean, with access to trails up Limekiln Canyon.
|Pfieffer Big Sur State Park Campground
This large campground in the heart of Big Sur is spread out through oak and redwood groves along the Big Sur River.
|Andrew Molera State Park Trail Camp
This trail camp is easy to reach (just a short walk in) with campsites in a meadow along the Big Sur River near Molera Beach.